On or around the 13th of October this year many people in the United States and other countries in the Western hemisphere will celebrate the day that three ships full of lost Europeans, lead by Christopher Columbus, were found by the Taino Indians of the Caribbean on a beach. What resulted on this day set into motion the systematic murder, torture, raping, pillaging, robbery, slavery, kidnapping, and forced removals of Indian people from their homelands that would come to set the pattern for Indian-European interactions over the next 500 years. What occurred was neither beautiful nor heroic and it cannot, and will not, be recognized as a honourary and celebratory event by we, the indigenous peoples of this hemisphere.
From our perspective, the arrival of the colonial-pirate Columbus was an unmitigated disaster from the start. Despite the fact that his personal diaries indicate that he was greeted by the Taino Indians with the most generous hospitality he had ever known, he began the immediate enslavement and slaughter of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean islands. This was also not the first mark on his record, because before he sailed the Atlantic in search of China he was a slave trader for the Portuguese, who’s job it was to transport people kidnapped from their West African homes to Portugal to be sold as slaves.
This is the indisputable truth of the events, however many of our brothers and sisters who continue to uphold the celebration of Columbus Day argue that we, as people in the 21st century, can not judge the actions of a 15th century man by modern standards. This is a weak defence at best because it implies that there were no moral or legal constraints applied to individuals such as Columbus, or countries, in 1492. However, as the legal historian Robert A. Williams, Jr details, European moral and legal principles were in existence before 1492, and, they actually, in theory, largely came down on the side of the rights of indigenous peoples to be free from unjustified invasion and pillage by Europeans. The simple fact is that the European Christians were largely acting outside of their own understanding of the spirit of the law.
The problem though runs much deeper than the simple facts of the personality and history of a colonial-pirate like Columbus, because the day itself represents a much larger national, and international, dynamic that continues to propagate a whole slew of myths and lies that serve to dehumanize the American Indian. These myths work to justify to the current inhabitants of the Americas the theft of our lands, the attempted destruction of our nations, and the genocide against our peoples. The continuation of Columbus Day continues the racist assumption that the Americas were an untamed wilderness, sparsely populated with primitive savages who contributed nothing to the world, and, as such, should be grateful for their colonization and their televisions, toaster ovens and cell-phones. The national-state education systems of the Americas continue to enforce these founding mythologies to this day.
The continued dignification of Columbus and his legacy with parades, holidays and other celebrations is an insult to all of us. As the indigenous people of this land, we can never condone social and political festivities that celebrate our genocide. As far as many of us are concerned, it is akin to celebrating German culture with something along the lines of an Adolf Hitler Day.”